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FAA grounds US Boeing 787 Dreamliners after second incident with Li-ion battery; GS Yuasa Lithium Power the manufacturer

As a result of an in-flight battery incident on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner yesterday in Japan, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and to require operators to temporarily cease operations of the aircraft.

Before further flight, operators of US-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe. The FAA said it will work with the manufacturer and carriers to develop a corrective action plan to allow the US 787 fleet to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible.

The in-flight Japanese battery incident followed an earlier 787 battery incident that occurred on the ground in Boston on 7 January 2013 and resulted in a fire. (Earlier post.)

The AD was prompted by this second incident involving a lithium-ion battery. The battery failures resulted in release of flammable electrolytes, heat damage, and smoke on the two 787s. The root cause of these failures is currently under investigation. These conditions, if not corrected, could result in damage to critical systems and structures, and the potential for fire in the electrical compartment, the FAA said.

Last Friday, the FAA announced a comprehensive review of the 787’s critical systems with the possibility of further action pending new data and information. In addition to the continuing review of the aircraft’s design, manufacture and assembly, the agency also will validate that 787 batteries and the battery system on the aircraft are in compliance with the special condition the agency issued as part of the aircraft’s certification.

United Airlines is currently the only US airline operating the 787, with six airplanes in service. When the FAA issues an airworthiness directive, it also alerts the international aviation community to the action so other civil aviation authorities can take parallel action to cover the fleets operating in their own countries.

Boeing selected Thales, a leading provider of onboard and ground systems for the civil aerospace market, to provide the lithium-ion battery technology, along with other systems and components for the 787. For the Li-ion system, Thales was prime contractor in association with Securaplane of the United States and GS Yuasa of Japan.

The Li-ion batteries in the Dreamliner are manufactured by GS Yuasa Lithium Power (GSYLP). Thales selected the GS Yuasa cells for the 787 in 2005. The multi-year, multi-million dollar contract was an historic first as it marked the first commercial aviation application of Li-ion technology.

GS Yuasa’s Li-ion prismatic batteries—its LVP 10-65 cells, with lithium cobalt oxide cathode materials—on the Dreamliner provided both Auxiliary Power Unit start and emergency power back-up capabilities. In the first phase of the contract, GS Yuasa delivered prototypes to Thales starting in spring, 2005; mass production started in 2007.

At the time, GS Yuasa said its Li-ion batteries offered 100% greater energy storage capacity than the existing nickel-cadmium batteries used in airliners. The battery can charge from 0 to 90% in 75 minutes and comes with battery management electronics which were intended to provide multiple levels of safety features.

At the time of the announcement of the contract with GS Yuasa in 2005, Steve Grinham, General Manager of the electrical activity of Thales, said:

Thales is determined to create the safest, most advanced, efficient and reliable power system possible for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. We are partnering with GS Yuasa because we are delighted with their battery technology. Since it is maintenance-free and has longer service life comparing to current nickel-cadmium batteries, it makes for lower operating costs and increased safety for airline companies.

In response to the FAA action, Boeing issued the following statement:

The safety of passengers and crew members who fly aboard Boeing airplanes is our highest priority. Boeing is committed to supporting the FAA and finding answers as quickly as possible. The company is working around the clock with its customers and the various regulatory and investigative authorities. We will make available the entire resources of The Boeing Company to assist.

We are confident the 787 is safe and we stand behind its overall integrity. We will be taking every necessary step in the coming days to assure our customers and the traveling public of the 787’s safety and to return the airplanes to service. Boeing deeply regrets the impact that recent events have had on the operating schedules of our customers and the inconvenience to them and their passengers.

Comments

kelly


"Substituting other batteries would require an STC, which requires a lot of testing and associated paperwork." sounds kinda BS for using a better battery than specified 5 years ago.

Aren't both batteries total <200 lbs and perhaps the volume of 4 car batteries?

Cable batteries with double/triple the wattage/requirements. Let
the craft carry a passenger less(297 max), vs grounding $million(daily?) fleet losses and endangering the booked 800 units/$billions.

There's no structual danger and less power than a golf cart's battery power involved, correct? Or can't it be practically solved after media coverage?

Engineer-Poet

I don't know anything about the size or weight of these batteries.  What I do know, from working on aviation-related projects, is the burden of testing and documentation which is required before the FAA will let something fly.  If you change the battery you change the cabling (which requires work to make sure it is adequately cooled, protected from chafing due to vibration, etc), you may impinge on nearby things with heat loads (or vice versa)... nothing about this is simple, cheap, or quick to sign off as airworthy.

JRP3

"Charging in 75 minutes is 0.8 C"

Oops, I claim temporary insanity.

I'm not sure about your post saying if you change the battery you need to change the cabling. The system will still be required to run at the same power level, so cables should be adequate.

Engineer-Poet

It's not going to be a direct bolt-in replacement, and everything needs to be looked at.  Even structural stuff during normal turbulence and bumps like hard landings.

One issue I can see with conversion to LiFePO4 is that the cell voltages are different, and who knows what they fixed in the system design that's hard to change at this late date.

Roger Pham

@JRP3,
Li-Po is probably the least safe chemistry, yet it is adequately safe for hobbyists who use quality chargers and observe safe usage/handling protocols--things that must be built-in to the battery management system & protocol of the 787. Fire hazard in hobbyists' Li-Po batteries are very rare event if crashes or short-circuitry or over-current are excluded, (via a simple fuse).

NiMh would be a safer alternative that has been already proven in over a decade of HEV usage.

Roger Pham

I must hasten to add that even in the event of a crash with the Li-Po battery completely deformed/punctured and damaged from the crash of a R/C plane or car, fire is still a rare event. Most of the times, nothing happen...more rarely, the battery pack may smolder and smoke without flame, and it is extremely rare for the battery pack to engulf in flame. The Li-Po has a solid-state polymer structure to prevent movement of the flammable electrolyte that prevents flame formation.

This, in comparison to the almost-certain fire hazard and flammability from the crash of a gasoline-powered R/C model, or a turbine/JP4-powered R/C jet airplaine.

Everything is relative. The fuel carried inside the jet's wing is far more flammable than the battery. To make lithium battery safer, all what is needed is an automatic fire extinguishing system that detects smoke and opens the valve of the fire extinguisher on board to allow the fire retardant to spread throughout the cooling passages of the battery pack.

kelly

".. the burden of testing and documentation which is required before the FAA will let something fly."

Spitballing, but perhaps the FAA needs some grounding. The HondaJet first flew in 2003. Appearently, a decade later, the FAA was still fumbling with four of them - still uncertified.

Today's FAA certaintly wouldn't have allowed the Wright Brothers off the ground.

There must be thousands of sucessful 787 electric system tests and flight hours. If it's a bad batch of battery cells, like the A123 Fisker cells, replace them. A stable voltage is doable.

Testing can take days, but the FAA fumbling away years toying with those test results isn't safety. Congress-like performance in flight is unacceptable.

D

Davemart, and everyone. I agree that LFP would be the prefered choice of chemistry, but it is not correct to say that they went for the highest energy density. Actually, the cells used in Dreamliner have a moderate energy density of only 101 Wh/kg (for the 65 Ah cell, less for the 10 Ah cell). So they could easily replace them with LFP or even NiMH without sacrifying storage capacity or weight.

http://www.gsyuasa-lp.com/download/file/fid/111

Patrick

The company which built the chargers for the 787 battery (Securaplane) burnt their offices down from a fire caused by a test on the 787 battery setup. It was back in 2006 but you would have thought that Boeing might have thought that the performance advantages from pushing the envelope with this particular technology just wern't worth the risks.

http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2013/1/21/business/20130121111701&sec=business

kelly

Patrick, interesting battery context, starting seven years ago.

CarCrazy

It looks like (from power electronics engineer and system integrator) prospective that the Boeing's power team overlooked some serious power system integration problems. Having distributed DC bus is not an easy task in any system never mind the system of such a complexity as Dreamliner is. I would love to get my hands on this problem if allowed. If somebody has connections, please, let me know. Battery and/or battery management system might have nothing to do with the problem. There is much bigger phenomena to take care about.

JRP3

Roger,
Most LiPo fires and explosions seem to happen when charging, not when crashing. I've seen very experienced LiPo users with good chargers have problems. There is an element of unpredictability with LiPo that simply is not acceptable at this point for anything other than RC use, and maybe EV dragsters, who are willing to take the risk to get the insanely high C rates.

kelly

"The Boeing 787 uses two 63-pound lithium-ion batteries primarily as backup power sources."

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2013/01/787-investigation-battery/

One airline claims the 126 lbs of backup batteries are costing it a $million a day.

This should: A. not have happened B. already be repaired because 50, 787 planes could not have flown for months if it were truly systemic.

Engineer-Poet

It took quite a few flight hours before the DeHavilland Comets started falling out of the sky, but they had systemic issues nevertheless.

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